Mortal Kombat out tomorrow is everything we have ever been promised from a reboot. It pays homage to the source material while forging new ground that is exciting and funny.
Sometimes you have to fight for your life. Mortal Kombat gets a glowed-up makeover that keeps everything right and expands the world we love so much. Translating a game into a movie often comes with dubious results. Silent Hill captured the horrifying imagery of the game, but the plot and conclusion were rushed and dull. Resident Evil is a guilty pleasure but if I’m honest is little else. Mortal Kombat gets everything right and sets the standard for video game based movies
Simon McQuoid’s Mortal Kombat is a high octane pleasure from beginning to end. I remember the original movie fondly. I’m not embarrassed to say I have rewatched it many times. I didn’t expect to like the updated version as much as I did. More often, reboots are retreads, and they lack all of the luster of the first. Not only is this not the case, but McQuoid manages to infuse his film with all the bloody wonderfulness of the game and more humor than should be possible with all the world-ending stakes and body parts flying around.
This new story is similar to the original. The fate of Earth is in the hands of a ragtag group of elite fighters and one guy who doesn’t know he’s an elite fighter. The ruler of Outworld Shang Tsung(Chin Han) refuses to play by the agreed-upon rules of combat and is an all-around terrible guy. The role originated by the incomparable Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is played straight, allowing some of the more colorful characters to shine.
This cast of largely unknown actors are brilliant martial artists. The new format detracted a bit from their unique talents in place of expository dumps that should be trimmed down in future movies. Tadanobu Asano revamps lord Raiden into a more menacing version. There is little of the cheeky jokester that Christopher Lambert(Highlander) brought. He is a serious God with a serious problem.
Team Earth has all of the usual suspects, including Jessica McNamee as Sonya Blade, who brings more depth to the strong female fighter, and Mehcad Brook’s Jax, who is powerful with or without arms. Max Huang is a real highlight as Kung Lao, the former Shaolin Monk. Soulful Ludi Lin brings a soulful vulnerability to Liu Kang, but the real standout is Lewis Tan(Deadpool 2) as ex-MMA fighter Cole Young. He not only brings the goods with incredible martial arts prowess but is surprisingly relatable, or at least as relatable as one could be in a video game turned movie franchise.
Team Outworld is scarier than their predecessors. Gone is the cartoonish costuming of the ’90s, making way for a more sophisticated and quite frankly creepier band of deadly brothers and sisters. The exception to this is Goro, who is every bit the absurd leviathan he is. His monster with many arms is clunkier than he should be next to the likes of Sisi Stringer’s terrifying Mileena. Sub Zero gets leveled up with enhanced abilities and OP skills. He is Shang Tsung’s right-hand man and, in most ways, his superior. This Shang Tsung still sucks souls, but we only really see him suck one and the one we see is more emotional than frightening.
Skirting the line between good and evil is Josh Lawson’s Kano, a foul-mouthed, vulgar jerk who has a line for every occasion and the good sense to never keep any of them to himself. He is the shining funny bone that braces everything together by embracing the campy melodrama of the story and leaning all the way into its bonkers sensibilities. He bops on and off-screen, blurting insane things with the comedic timing of a pro.
An early backstory provides the genesis for some of the most famous characters that is pretty to look at and could be developed into more if sequels are ordered. Scorpion gets a sympathetic plot beat while the rivalry between him and Sub-Zero is fleshed out for better or worse.
The defeats or fatalities are inventively disgusting but come in wholesale slaughters as opposed to tournament-style contests. Hopefully, if there is a sequel, we spend more time in the demonic Outerworld, and we return to more tournament-style fighting. While I applauded the creative gore, I missed the individual battles. One particular scene with a buzzsaw hat you have to see to believe and what they do with Sub-Zero’s icy skill set is inventive. Special effects call back to specific fight moves in the video game, including a gag with a leg sweep that any game player will get a good chuckle from. This film knows exactly what it is and never wavers from the over-the-top, raunchy, laugh-out-loud vision.
I get the criticism; however, I can overlook the coarser moments because there are enough gameplay moments to make me smile, and Lawson’s Kano is a star. Something shamelessly abandoned about Mortal Kombat gives you permission to be a kid again and just enjoy the ride. The loving commitment to the game is evident with every cheesy oneliner from Kano and enough blood to drown in. It is a flawless victory,
Mortal Kombat is in theaters everywhere tomotow and available to stream on HBO Max on the same time.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.